Isabel Case Borgatta: persistence of the figure

Isabel Case Borgatta is, at this writing, the oldest resident of New York’s Westbeth Artist’s Housing, a live/work development exclusively for artists that has been home to many, including Merce Cunningham and Diane Arbus. Borgatta works every day, in a demanding medium, despite the vagaries of age.

A 1943 graduate of Smith College, Borgatta’s devotion to carving began as a girl when she won $100 in an Ivory Soap contest. “A lot of money in the middle of the Depression,” Borgatta remembers. “From there I started carving most any material I could.”*

Borgatta’s many honors include a first exhibit in 1951 at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and, in 1995, she was the first woman to receive the Alex J. Ettl Grant from the National Sculpture Society for her lifetime achievement. “One for the girls,” she quips.

Borgatta has always worked figuratively, often combining animal and human subjects in sculpture that ranges from a few inches to life size. A new piece, carved in her customary marble, shows a man carrying two cats. “I have a strong feeling about communication between the species and their symbiosis, which is a natural part of this world,” Borgatta says.

For contemporary women artists struggling to find balance, she advises: “Don’t give up. It’s hard, but if it’s important to you as a full human being to realize what you can do, just do it.”

*quotes courtesy Smith College Alumnae Quarterly, Summer 2012: “The Shape of Things” by Jane Falla.
image courtesy “Out of Sync”!caracters


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